Microsoft CIO Summit 2017 – Beijing: An Eye Opener

You will often hear people from Bangalore, myself included, discussing traffic jams in an exasperated way. Well, on my first visit to Beijing, I was forced to reassess my take on Indian traffic jams as “cute”. While in Indian traffic, you have the time to replay your life’s decisions, in China, you have the time to do a bit more. For example, you can recall the warnings that your real-world existence counts for nothing in China if you do not exist on WeChat and then hurriedly install it using expensive cab Wi-Fi.

I had the chance to make these reflections as I was in Beijing in December for the Microsoft CIO-Summit 2017 event, hosted by the Microsoft Accelerator there. When I arrived, I was greeted by a well-organized and smiling Microsoft China team and presented with a streamlined and straight-forward agenda. The goal of the event was to help myself and the representatives of other startups understand what it takes to do business in China and meet our first set of potential clients representing some of the largest manufacturing powerhouses in the world. Just as my introduction to Beijing’s unique traffic situation was an eye-opening experience, so too were the lessons I learned at the event about the unique demands of entering the Chinese market.

I was there representing Progress DataRPM, one of the largest Cognitive Predictive Maintenance providers in the world. Cognitive Predictive Maintenance, for the uninitiated, is a part of Industry 4.0 (part of the Industrial Internet of Things or IoT) to help monitor and increase machine uptime thereby securing the bottom line for both asset manufacturers and owners. For a more in-depth look please refer to this for predictive maintenance.

With customers across the major manufacturing regions like the United States, Europe, South Korea and India, we had the intent to add China to that list and increase our global manufacturing presence. At DataRPM, we develop in-house time series algorithms and supplement them with horizontally scalable machine learning frameworks like Spark and Azure ML, while heavily leveraging Microsoft’s Azure cloud. In-fact some of us might be applying our predictive maintenance techniques to stock markets to find support levels for promising stocks. This was one of the reasons our friends at MS-China correctly felt that we would be a good fit for the event.

This event was relevant to me on a personal level, since, as a Principal Data Scientist, I have been a part of Progress DataRPM’s growth from a $6 million startup to its acquisition as the vanguard of Progress Software’s cognitive-first strategy. It is imperative that data scientists not hide in tall white towers of mathematics, but interact with customers to converge to solutions at a fast pace. I was fortunate enough to not only be involved in the product development of our Cognitive Anomaly Detection and Prediction (CAD-P) product for solving real world predictive maintenance problems but also lead the data-science team interacting with clients to support the platform.

Familiar Problems in a Unique Environment

One of my first observations was that many of the problems we faced at DataRPM were common challenges addressed in the event, but applied to the unique circumstances of the Chinese market. For instance, the challenges we faced selling cutting-edge solutions to the first adopter markets were addressed in a presentation by Mr. Legend Zhu, the Field Readiness Manager at Microsoft. The talk provided an alternate insight into how Microsoft strategizes for its own products using challenge selling. In addition, Carmen Zhou, the Director of Cloud and Channel Sales at Microsoft China, described how the MS-China ecosystem functions and how Progress DataRPM could potentially plug into the Chinese market with her team’s assistance. We learned of two important points for Microsoft partners aspiring to enter China:

  1. Being a partner for Microsoft China is a necessity. Get that done first
  2. Just like data protection laws in Europe and in the US, China has its own set of data protection laws. Microsoft Azure complies with these laws

With a long history of enabling and guiding startup growth in evolved markets like the US and new markets like China, MS technology centres around the world are a repository of bleeding edge projects. I was surprised to see Microsoft’s continued push in the sphere of predictive maintenance visualization. There have been significant advances from the time Microsoft announced its partnership with GE in the first Predix Transform Conference (which I was fortunate enough to attend in 2016). We were given first hand interactions with other projects like augmented reality, face and emotion recognition, etc. On a lighter note, Microsoft’s face and emotion recognition demo, decided to fan my vanity by shaving off five years from my age (AI Much?).


Five men standing for a group photo The author at the CIO Summit


Progress DataRPM CADP’s key focus lies in scalability, repeatability, and concurrency of a large number of data science experiments (across programming languages/engines/etc.). In-fact, I believe that our small rag-tag group of RPMers are all experimenters at heart and this exposure sparked another set of experiments to be conducted in-house. As always one must be conscious that experiments are vetted. It was refreshing that the formal kick-off speech by Mr. Alain Crozier, Corporate Vice President, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Microsoft Greater China Region, which was about the vision for MS-China was in line with Progress DataRPM’s vision for Industry 4.0.

At Progress DataRPM, I have seen use-cases ranging from modelling washing machines, air-conditioners, home automation networks to locomotives, turbines and entire power generation plants. The common thread to success in these cases has always been about high-quality sensor data. From one-on-one meetings with the assembled Chinese CIOs, it was surprising to note that they have already begun aggregating sensor data. It is an indication that the Chinese market is primed for the Industry 4.0 revolution.

Presenters from our cohort had the opportunity to share what they do in front of a large knowledgeable audience on stage. The response was frankly breath-taking and we hope that our foray into the Chinese market would be as equally breath-taking.